Verizon has recently announced that a new launcher called AppFlash will join its range of preinstalled applications, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation or EFF says it's a blow to privacy.
The EFF is the largest digital privacy advocate in the United States and it frequently draws attention to potential privacy violations and the implications that various apps, programs or actions might have.
Verizon AppFlash Spyware
In the case of AppFlash, Verizon teamed up with Evie and the resulting app launcher and search utility will be preinstalled on Verizon smartphones. According to the EFF, AppFlash is basically spyware and will severely damage users's privacy.
The timing of this matter is worthy of note. On March 28, the U.S. Congress voted to repeal internet privacy rules, essentially allowing internet service providers to sell users's browsing history and data without their permission.
The EFF says that the Congress's move is directly related to Verizon's new launcher, as the decision to reduce broadband privacy protection is what prompted the AppFlash announcement.
Verizon reckons that it collects information about the user's device and use of the AppFlash services, and that data may include the user's phone number, device identifier, device type, operating system and other data regarding the AppFlash services and features the user interacts with. At the same time, it also accesses information about the applications installed on the device. With the user's permission, AppFlash also gathers data about the precise location of the device, as well as contact information stored on the device.
"AppFlash information may be shared within the Verizon family of companies, including companies like AOL who may use it to help provide more relevant advertising within the AppFlash experiences and in other places, including non-Verizon sites, services and devices," Verizon explains.
Compromising User Privacy And Security
According to the EFF, Verizon plans to use AppFlash to monetize users's private data without requiring their consent, and the whole process could have grave repercussions.
"With this spyware, Verizon will be able to sell ads to you across the Internet based on things like which bank you use and whether you've downloaded a fertility app," says the EFF.
"Verizon's use of "AppFlash" — an app launcher and web search utility that Verizon will be rolling out to their subscribers' Android devices "in the coming weeks" — is just the latest display of wireless carriers' stunning willingness to compromise the security and privacy of their customers by installing spyware on end devices."
At the same time, AppFlash poses another potential threat as hackers could exploit it. The EFF warns that hackers will soon start probing AppFlash for vulnerabilities in an attempt to use it as a back door to gain access to devices.
The AppFlash app launcher itself is reportedly just a tweaked version of the existing Evie launcher. AppFlash will automatically roll out to Verizon devices in the next few weeks, but Evie is reportedly looking to license the launcher to other wireless carriers as well.
The EFF concludes its warning by noting that Verizon should immediately stop trying to monitor users's behavior and just provide internet service without spying on its customers.